I often get asked about strict schedules for new babies. Feed for 30 minutes. Play for 15 minutes. Wake window is 90 minutes. Sleep for 90 minutes. It hasn’t been 3 hours, wait to feed the baby. If baby cries or doesn’t settle, parents are disappointed or think something wrong is wrong with the baby.
For some families, schedules go well. They fit into a pretty good model where baby follows a fairly consistent routine from early on. If that was you, GREAT! For the vast majority of us, though, we will start a schedule only to feel like it never lasts more than a few days before falling apart. This is for one simple reason: newborns have not read “the book”. They rely purely on instinct and reflex in the early months. Their basic human needs are nutrition, warmth, love, and sleep. Baby expects to be held 24/7 because that is how they survive and develop. They are born about 1-2 years too early! They are completely dependent on their parents for doing all of their cares: feeding, self care, cleaning, soothing, transitioning to sleep. Babies feed frequently. They have very small tummies and breast milk digests very quickly.
But you’re not just feeding for nutrition. They feed for thirst, comfort, pain relief, for growth, to help them poop! They want to be at the breast to soothe. They want to be at the breast if they’re cold. They want the breast for all of their range of new emotions.
Babies cannot cognitively manipulate or control. They don’t cry or seek attention consciously. They do it for survival out of instinct and reflex. These instincts don’t always align with the clock. Putting a baby on a schedule doesn’t usually work. Their body may tell them it’s hungry again, even if it’s only been an hour. They may not be in a mood to play when the clock tells you they should. They may have gas and be uncomfortable on their belly when it’s Tummy Time time.
So why do we put so much pressure on ourselves to put a baby on a schedule? The short answer is: society. Society has deeply ingrained in us that a good baby is one that sleeps when we say they should sleep and for a long amount of time. Society says we should control what babies do and when they do it. That baby is only a good baby if they sleep for a designated amount of time. Society also says babies shouldn’t need tended to at night time and that we should teach them, often from a ridiculously early age, not to need us at night. In reality, we are not in control and neither are our babies. We’re in a mutual relationship where we are learning what our babies need and when they need it. We are supporting their physical, social, developmental and emotional needs and these needs shift and change as they age.
Does this mean we will never get into a schedule? NO! Most families find they naturally fall into a ROUTINE that works for them. Every routine will look different because every family is different. Usually as the weeks and months go by, a pattern naturally emerges that revolves around our unique family lifestyle. So how do you cope while waiting for a natural rhythm to be established? Sometimes just realizing that not having a set schedule in the early months is normal can take the stress off. Understanding that you’re not alone can be comforting to our structured adult mindset.